Plan to sell Lower 9th Ward lots for $100 nears final passage

On Tennessee Street on Thursday, as a group of kids sold cups of lemonade for 75 cents, a neighbor described the sight as one of many signs of life across the Lower 9th Ward these days.

"Children are here and that's the thing. Children are the lifeblood of what makes things grow, what keeps communities growing, what keeps this city growing," said resident Robert Green.

But while there are pockets of activity across the Lower 9, much of the area is still in disarray: lot after blighted lot covered in towering weeds and grass, but otherwise empty.

"We need more people. We need more businesses," said Ladrena Anderson, another lifelong resident.

Now though, some are hopeful that two legislative measures will get things moving. Known as the Lower 9th Ward Redevelopment Act, the bills aim to put 600 lots back into commerce for just $100 each.

One bill authorizes the city to sell the lots, which are currently controlled by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. The other piece is a state constitutional amendment that would need to be approved by voters statewide in November.

State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward, sponsored the bills, passed unanimously by both the Senate and House.

"I'm concerned when I drive the streets and I see blocks and blocks of vacant lots and blighted houses and grass taller than me," Bishop said. "If we don't do something unconventional for the Lower 9th Ward, I'm concerned that in a few years or so, we won't know it as it currently exists."

Current Lower 9 residents living next door to the properties would get first priority, followed by long-term renters in the area, and then others such as former residents, first responders, veterans and teachers.

Buyers would have to build on the lots and live there for at least five years.

Green, who escaped the floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina by climbing onto his rooftop, is among a small group of longtime Lower 9th Ward residents trying to bring the historic community back.

He fully supports the proposals.

"If you give people a chance to actually maintain a piece of property, make it look good, then other people will come in here and want to move into this neighborhood," Green said. "Passing those properties on to those people who live next door who deserve to have a clean lot next door to them, and $100 makes it possible for them to take ownership, clean up those lots and then put them back into producing income for this city."

One looming question is whether the city supports the plan. On Thursday, a spokesman said the administration hasn't yet taken a position.

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